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Can a Man of Steel be a Master of the Universe? – DC Comics Presents #47

May 13, 2013

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I saw a little blurb the other day about how there’s going to be a DC vs. Masters of the Universe mash-up crossover later this summer. I have no thoughts about that, other than the eventual product will probably be loud, stupid, and probably a teensy-weensy bit fun for those plopping down their cash to read it. Can’t say that I’ll be queued up on its release day to get my hand on a copy, but we can all wish those behind it the best. That little notice did trigger one thing in my head, though: it brought back fond memories of a another little crossover — though it wasn’t actually a crossover at the time, any more than Superman racing the Flash would have been a crossover.

DC Comics Presents #47 was the first He-Man comic book appearance (if you’re not counting the little, largely forgotten comics that came with the toys), a precursor to the insert story that was bound into the DC comics line later that year. It’s a little bit odd, in that the aesthetic and populace of Eternia, which would soon become familiar to a generation of boys thanks to the cartoon series, was still being fleshed out. As such, there’s a double-edged sword at play: You might not get an assemblage of the colorful characters that you love so much, but you also don’t get crap like the Meteorbs. Or Orko. Take the good with the bad, I guess. And, being an interesting relic, there’s more good than bad.  

What are some of the differences in this Paul Kupperberg-written, Curt Swan-penciled, Mike DeCarlo-inked affair? Besides Man-At-Arms lacking his Jack Warden mustache, Prince Adam is less the regal, mild-mannered member of the Eternian royal house, and more someone who picks fights over a mug of mead in ye olde medieval pub:

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And the transformation battle-cry of He-Man, the one even known to people who’ve never once watched a He-Man cartoon from start to finish? “By the power of Grayskull, I have the power!”? Totally absent. He-Man instead gets his muscle-revealing duds — and Cringer becomes Battle-Cat — through a magical wardrobe change courtesy of the Sorceress:

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No sword, either. Just the old ax.

Superman gets sucked into things thanks to Skeletor’s usual hijinks. The latter is mad to break down the doors of Castle Grayskull and get his bony hands on the wonders within, but he’s not having much luck. So he starts hammering on its doors with his magic sword — not one of his more ingenious plans, but whatever. (An aside: Remember how, with the He-Man and Skeletor toys, both characters had halves of a sword that could be clipped together to become a super-duper-super-sword? Though that was forgotten in the show, Skeletor here wields his half.) All his pounding does is whip up a space-time portal, one that draws in guess who. Down plops Superman onto Eternian soil, and Superman soon realizes that *gasp* his new foe has magic on his side!:

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Thankfully Superman isn’t stripped nude here, like that time he got mugged by the werewolf. Instead he remembers that he’s super-strong and can fight back, and doesn’t have to faint like a southern belle at the first sign of magic trouble. Progress.

He-Man shows up to save the day, but winds up battling a mind-controlled Superman — there are limits to Superman’s anti-magic progress, apparently. And just who is THE MIGHTIEST MAN IN THE UNIVERSE?:

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I applaud the comic for trying to get deep with the orphan/child-of-two-worlds dynamic, but its an uphill climb when a guy is FWAMP!ing another dude with said dude’s cape. And, in that vein, the comic soon peters out, with Superman overcoming Skeletor’s spell, Skeletor making his escape, and Superman returning to Earth via the same portal that brought him to Eternia. It’s almost over before it starts, and we get no clear victor in the strength contest between our two heroes. Rip-off. Oh well.

The differences between this He-Man and the later, more familiar Eternian champion almost make you think that this story might be set on a special, DC-specific version of that world, meaning it wouldn’t be a crossover so much as a brief exploration of unseen territory. Maybe Eternia is Earth-Pectorals or something. Fine. Dandy. But it’s not like it sets a high bar for the upcoming crossover to either match or surpass, despite the artistic presence of the late, great Mr. Swan. It’s a hastily assembled comic to shoehorn interest in the new, made-to-move-toys-off-shelves He-Man universe, and reads as such. It’s odd, though, and that kind of weighs in its favor. Odd, as always, is at least interesting.

Addendum: There’s a brief back-up story at the end, featuring the Golden Age Sandman reuniting with his barely-remembered sidekick, Sandy. In the last panels Wesley Dodds and his young pal ponder their future, a question left open and to be answered by the readers (Words: Mike W. Barr, Art: Jose Delbo and John Calnan):

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Answer: No. Sorry, Wesley. Maybe if you bulked up, got a sword, a tiger and a skeleton-faced arch-enemy.

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